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Oklahoma Memories

Tom Mix Remembered


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Three afternoons a week - Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays at 5:45 - children, mainly boys, gathered around the radio to listen to this program.

"Continuation of Tom Mix show intro"

For kids in Oklahoma it was especially thrilling to hear the adventures of the former town marshal from Dewey, Oklahoma. If you read Tom's biography, that about the only thing in it that was accurate. This excerpt from the Tom Mix Straight Shooters Show from August 1945 didn't feature Tom Mix. He died in a car crash in 1940. The Tom Mix radio shows that ran from 1933 to 1950 never starred the real Tom Mix.

Radio's Tom Mix had little similarity with the actual Tom Mix. However, even the "actual" Tom Mix bore little relation to historical fact. Thomas Hezekiah Mix was born in a rural Pennsylvania in 1880. Later he claimed Oklahoma or Texas as his birthplace and claimed that he was "one-quarter Cherokee", but all of his ancestors were Irish or English.

Like most boys of his era, he didn't finish grade school. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1898, and although he eventually made sergeant, he never saw combat nor did he ever leave the United States. He deserted the Army and never went back. Later, Tom (and his press agents) embellished his military record to include membership in Teddy Roosevelt's "Rough Riders", wounds from war in both the Philippines and Cuba, and action in the Boer War and the Boxer Rebellion, but none of this was true.

In Oklahoma, he served as the town marshal in Dewey, and he worked for the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch Show where he stood out as a skilled horseman and expert shot, winning the 1909 National Riding and Rodeo Championship.

A year later, in 1910, he moved west to Los Angeles and began his climb to fame and fortune. He got a job as a supporting cast member with the Selig Polyscope Company. His first shoot in 1910 at their studio was Ranch Life in the Great Southwest, in which he showed his skills as a cattle wrangler. The movie was a success, and Mix became an early motion picture star.

Mix's movie career spanned 26 years from 1909 to 1935. At various times he was under contract with Selig, Fox, the Film Booking Office, Universal and Mascot. In all, he made 336 feature movies, produced 88, wrote 71, directed 117. Tom made only nine sound feature movies and one 15-chapter serial, "Miracle Rider." Tom Mix's movies were famous for quick action and daredevil stunts. Tom and his horse, Tony, performed their own stunts. Tom was a superb athlete and kept himself in good physical condition. He pioneered many of the early movie stunts. No trick cameras or fake scenes were used because of the limited shooting budgets.

In 1929, he joined a circus, earning a reported $20,000 a week. The Great Depression and several failed marriages took a financial toll on Tom. Eventually he returned to the silver screen. In 1933 an advertising agency tried to persuade Tom to appear in a radio adventure series, but Tom refused saying radio didn't pay enough. He did, however, give the Ralston Company the rights to use his name on the radio show while he continued to perform in circuses.

In 1940, on October 12, Mix was driving his car in rural Arizona, when he came up on a bridge washed out sign. Highway workers watched as his car failed to brake in time. He was killed instantly.
Tom Mix was "the King of Cowboys" when Ronald Reagan and John Wayne were youngsters, and the influence of his screen persona can be seen in their approach to portraying cowboys. When an injury caused football player John Wayne to drop out of Southern Cal, Tom Mix helped him get a job moving props on the back lot of Fox Studios.

You can learn more about Tom Mix by visiting the Tom Mix Museum in Dewey, Oklahoma. The museum is operated by local volunteers in Dewey and is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4;30 p.m. and Sundays from 1 to 4:30.
"Closing credits for Tom Mix"

Oklahoma Memories is a production of the Oklahoma Historical Society, dedicated to collecting, preserving, and sharing our state's past. I'm Michael Dean.